Please Follow the New Walking Blog

My new walking blog Walking The Old Ways starts this week, so please click on the link and follow. Freedom to Roam will remain as an archive blog, though I might put on the odd notification.

Here’s a taste of what to expect from the new one:

Walking the Old Ways

Welcome to my new blog Walking the Old Ways – a celebration of rambling in the British countryside.

The Old Ways – the ancient tracks and footpaths that criss-cross our landscape, worn there by the passage of walkers and riders over centuries. The old paths used by people to get to their parish church and farm fields. The droving routes taken by animal herdsmen over centuries. The coffin paths along which the dead were taken on their last journeys. The prehistoric routes and Roman roads. The trails that we wander on to this day.

And not just paths – this blog will be a celebration of the wide open spaces where we may roam away from the beaten track. The mountains and moorlands, the fells and fens, where your only companions might be the wild birds and the creatures of the ground.

Back in the 1970s, I wrote a magazine article entitled “Walking the Old Ways”, urging that we preserve our ancient paths and countryside. I first heard the phrase “Old Ways” from an old Gypsy I encountered on an old path. It’s gained some currency in recent years with the publication of Robert MacFarlane’s excellent book The Old Ways.

These old paths are vital, for they are a hugely important part of our history, which should be valued as much as archaeological sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge.

We’ll also be looking at what you might see when you go out for a walk…

I’m John Bainbridge. I’ve walked these paths for nearly sixty years. I’ve written about them in a host of country magazines. I’ve fought to save them as a volunteer for the Ramblers Association and as a former chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association. I campaign for the wild places to this day…

I also believe in and campaign for the Right to Roam.

These days I write books, both volumes about the countryside and novels. I’ve had two successful blogs (archived now if you want to read them) Freedom to Roam and Over the Hills.

You might like to try my walking books: Wayfarer’s Dole, The Compleat Trespasser, Footloose in Devon and Footloose with George Borrow. All except the last available in paperback or as eBooks on Kindle.

Why not come along for the walks?

Click on the link to FOLLOW…



A Walk in the Snow to Flakebridge Wood

Since yesterday, the Cumbrian snow has been melting in our valley. But the drifts cling on up the slopes leading to the North Pennines – strangely enough the higher fells, and the great pikes are almost bare. The snow blew off them in the high winds of a few days ago.

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Well House Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We walked out from Appleby to Flakebridge Wood following the route mentioned on previous blogs.

The snow filled Well House Lane almost to the top of the hedges on either side, several feet deep. Fortunately, it was hard so not difficult to walk along the top, though the Flakebridge houses must have been cut off for days.

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Follow the Footpath Sign (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The wood itself was full of animal tracks, which make walking in the snow a delight. We saw deer, badger, fox, pheasant, red squirrel marks in the snow.

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Into Flakebridge Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We walked back through Stank Wood, finding the path up through the trees with some difficulty in the drifts.

Then across the fields to Stank Lane, which was crammed full of softer snow, the kind where you sink in a few feet. But it was playful and soft and great fun to clamber up through, almost like being a child again.

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A Stile on Stank Lane

The snow in Appleby town had almost gone, just that dirty snow, stained with rock salt, so different from the drifts on the higher slopes.

And with this blog I’m bringing to a halt my writings on this site Freedom to Roam. I hope you’ve enjoyed these ramblings. However, from later in the week I’m starting a new walking and outdoors blog Walking the Old Ways, which will feature lots of walks, talks of rambling books, items of interest in the countryside and so on.

This blog will remain here as an archive blog so it will still be available to read.

So please come along and click “Follow”. It wouldn’t be the same without you all…

Here’s the link:



Roman Road in Winter

I’ve written in previous blogs about the Roman road running through the Eden valley and then to the Stainmore Gap across the Pennines. A good section in open countryside runs from the town of Appleby to Powis House, near to the village of Long Marton.Roman Road Feb18 001.JPG

A good section, but one that nature is in a fight – a winning fight – to take back from the Roman Empire.

Trees and thick undergrowth are encroaching on to the line of the road, and some of the lower sections are awash with water – though it is February, of course, and the road is dryer in summer. How damaging this is to the archaeology I’m not sure. I suspect it’s been a while since archaeologists examined the state of the road.Roman Road Feb18 002.JPG

While the engineering of the road is undoubtedly Roman, I don’t believe for a moment that the Romans pioneered this route. A look at the archaeology across the Eden Valley and the Stainmore Gap suggests to me that there must have been a prehistoric trail which the Roman surveyors adapted and improved for their own use. I believe the same might be said about the more famous High Street in the Lake District.Roman Road Feb18 004.JPG

As a bridleway, this section of the Roman road is in imminent danger of being obstructed by overgrowth, and the muddy conditions make walking hard work. Time the Ramblers footpath officer had a look.

We plodded along it and it certainly provides an historic atmosphere, though we didn’t feel inclined to walk back the same way, instead taking the lanes to Long Marton and then back to Appleby.Roman Road Feb18 007.JPG

A balance has to be struck between the preservation of our precious archaeology and giving nature its head. I feel that, as far as this section of the Roman road is concerned, it’s gone too far in the latter direction.


All pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2018

My new country walking and outdoors blog is coming soon…

Snowdrops in Cumbria

Surely Cumbria must be one of the best places in Britain to see snowdrops? There are clumps of these lovely plants absolutely everywhere at the moment.

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Snowdrops in Flakebridge Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A week ago we walked up to Flakebridge Wood from Appleby, several muddy miles after the vanishing of the snow and a lot of rain. This was one to get the old boots muddy on…

A day of mixed weather too – as we wandered the first fields there was a fierce snowstorm, followed by a warm and brighter day of sunshine and clear blue skies.

Just north of the noisy A66 road at Appleby is a quieter near-deserted stretch of lane – a modest bit of highway. But important as it follows the course of the Roman road which once led through the Eden valley and across the Stainmore Gap. (More on this in my next blog). Interesting to think of the legions marching this way before the nearby (Viking) town of Appleby even existed.

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Lime Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the footpath around the back of Fair Hill – where the Gypsies come to camp each June.

But in past centuries it was better known as Gallows Hill, the place where men and women were brought from the Appleby Assizes to be “hanged by the neck until they be dead”. Most of the folk ‘turned off’ here were, of course, the poor and desperate rather than hardened criminals. You could be hanged for starving and stealing a loaf of bread.

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Esplandhill and Frith Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Over the side of Hangingshaw Hill and into Lime Lane, a very pleasant enclosed green track, which I suspect was longer in the hanging days, to Clickham Farm. We were pleased to see that this lane had been cleared of overgrowth since we last used it, when I reported it to the Ramblers via their Pathwatch App. (Worth getting, you can use it on your computer if you haven’t got a smartphone).

Along the lane then to Esplandhill Farm, where we were greeted by a friendly farmer as we made our way along Frith Lane (another green track) to Flakebridge Wood.

Much of this shooting preserve is out of bounds, though there are a few rights of way. One of those bits of woodland we should reclaim under the Charter of the Forest (see blogs passim).

This mixed woodland showed us some pleasant patches of snowdrops. A lovely touch at this time of year.

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The Edge of Forbidden Flakebridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the Well House Lane back to Appleby – as this leads nowhere but to the wood it is quiet as far as traffic is concerned.

Appleby – once the County Town of Westmorland, until that county was abolished. One of the castle homes of Lady Anne Clifford, whose 17th century diaries are well-worth a read. A place of the Assizes, where men and women made their last journey to an unfair trial and the gallows. A town founded by settling Vikings. Once part of Scotland and therefore not in the Domesday Book, it’s castle besieged several times in our history.

A town so recently flooded in Storm Desmond, but still here.

A place that changed its name to Appleby-in-Westmorland to preserve its ancient honours.

A town whose green places are covered with snowdrops at the moment.


Fight for Woodland Access

Last year marked the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, an historic document that gave common people the right of access to forest land. Please support the Ramblers campaign.

This can be seen as the first step in a campaign spanning centuries, seeking the legal guarantee of freedom for people to access England’s beautiful landscapes. In more recent years we have seen the Kinder Scout trespass, the founding of the Ramblers, the establishment of National Parks and National Trails, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, the right to create the England Coast Path, among many other achievements. See our timeline below for the full history!

At this anniversary we are not only celebrating the last 800 years of access, but we are also looking forward to the next 800 years.

It may surprise you that today, only 40% of woodland in England and Wales is accessible to the public, and much of this doesn’t have a permanent right of access, meaning it could be closed off at any time. Our recent YouGov survey revealed that people want increased access to woods and forests more than any other type of land.

In response, we are calling on the government to improve access to the beautiful woodlands of England and Wales. Add your voice to this call by signing our petition here.

This anniversary really brings to life the long history of the struggle for greater access to the countryside, a mission that is very close to many people’s hearts. But what do people want for the next 800 years? Now is your chance to help shape the future of access. Share your views in our survey here.

Sign the petition

Join us by putting your names against our calls as we look forward to the future of access.

A Walk Into Prehistory

I’ve written before about the important antiquities at Moor Divock and Askham Fell.

This is a good time to get out and study our archaeology, given that in winter vegetation is down and prehistoric remains are much easier to see.Moor Divoc Feb18 003

Every walker should try and understand as much a possible about the history of the landscape they are walking through. You don’t need a degree in archaeology, there are many excellent books for beginners. Try the cheap little books by Shire Publications, which feature individual volumes on a host of archaeological topics – such as stone circles, barrows, Roman roads, causewayed enclosures etc etc.Moor Divoc Feb18 018

The British countryside is under endless threat. The land we enjoy might not be there for future generations unless we fight for it now.

Understanding its history is crucial in those battles.Moor Divoc Feb18 010

And please do support at least one of the many voluntary societies fighting to protect this precious land – and your right to walk in it.Moor Divoc Feb18 017

Put Moor Divock into the Search space above for walks in this beautiful area.

(c) All pictures John Bainbridge 2018

Journeys into Forbidden Britain

For just one week from tonight, my book The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into Forbidden Britain is available for just 99 pence/cents as a Kindle read for your smartphone (with a free Kindle App) or to read on a Kindle device or laptop. 

It’s also out in paperback.dscf8425

Walk Magazine in its review said:

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law.

Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in.

Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out.

The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”

Some of the great figures in British history trespassed, including Winston Churchill, A.Wainwright, Ramsey MacDonald, William Wordsworth – the list goes on…

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

ABOUT THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER: In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoors journalist and novelist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land.

This ground-breaking book examines how events through history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands.

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers.

The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

John Bainbridge has been a country walker for over fifty years. He was recently commended by the Ramblers Association for his many years of campaigning service to the rambling movement. He is the author of some thirty books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, mostly about the countryside and outdoor life.

John is also the author of the historical novels LoxleyWolfshead and Villain, chronicling the adventures of Robin Hood – one of Britain’s most notorious trespassers – as well as the thriller Balmoral Kill and the William Quest mystery novels.

Have a subversive rambling week  with The Compleat Trespasser…

Just click on the link below to order or start reading…